Perimeter Seeks to be Faithful to Westminster, and Contemporary
Founded by a new seminary graduate in 1977, Perimeter Church of Atlanta has been one of the fastest growing churches in the denomination. Moving into new facilities have enabled Sunday morning attendance to expand to over 3,000 people. Under the leadership of Senior Pastor Randy Pope, Perimeter has also spawned a number of other congregations in the Atlanta area.
Suzanne Haley has been Program Director at the church for three and a half years. As such, she works with the programming team, which includes a technical coordinator, drama coordinator, a music minister and pastor, and an associate music director. The larger worship team includes Randy Pope as head and a number of elders and other volunteers.
She says that Sunsay morning worship at Perimeter includes the singing of choruses and hymns, ensembles, testimonies, dance/ballet, drama, the Lord's Prayer and Apostles' Creed, confessions, an offering, a sermon, and the reading of Scripture. Video screens are used to flash the words of songs and Scripture verses.
Mrs. Haley stated that the drama is commonly used as as sermon illustration and sometimes to raise questions: "It engages people into thinking how they have a need for the topic that is to come." The drama sketch is sometimes at the very front end of the service, sometimes just before the sermon, and at least once during the sermon itself.
According to Associate Pastor Bob Burns, Perimeter Church, though utilizing a "contemporary" model, does not approach the subject of worship in a "cavalier" fashion. Indeed, Dr. Burns states that "we are extremely serious about the Westminster Standards." In support of that contention, he cites the fact that potential officers have to go through an extensive study of the Westminster Confession, including the use of G. I. Williamson's study guide. "We take their [the elders'] vows very seriously," says Burns.
He says that he views drama as "parabolic in nature. It's not there to make people feel good," but rather to challenge them. Dr. Burns believes that there are places that drama is being used inappropriately in today's church. But at Perimeter, all drama scripts are critiqued "to make sure they are Biblical." He referred to "critical filters," including the accountability of the worship team to Pastor Pope and of him to the elders.
He stated that ballet was not normally used in the church service, it having been employed only about two or three times. Every time it has been done in conjunction with musical pieces--an artistic presentation of the words being sung. It is "not beauty for beauty's sake, art for art's sake."
Regarding how to reconcile the use of drama and dance with the Westminster Standards, Dr. Burns said that he could not speak to what the Westminster divines intended by their words in those documents. Nor could he cite any scholars or scholarly works that would support the notion that the Westminster Assembly would have approved of liturgical dance or drama. But he did say that the way Perimeter is using those two controversial practices of worship, such use is "consistent" with the Westminster Standards. "There's a responsibility to interpret and apply" the Westminster Confession, just like the Scripture, according to Burns.
The fact that the church has been bulging with new people led the elders to establish a Saturday night worship service, identical to the two on Sunday morning. The leadership believes that this is consistent with Lord's Day worship, because it believes that the Lord's Day begins Saturday at sundown. About 400 to 500 people are coming to worship Saturday evening. Once a month, a Sunday Celebration worship service is held, at which the Lord's Supper is observed. Having communion served on Sunday evening helps in a practical way with the fencing of the Lord's table, according to Pastor Burns.